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Genome Med. 2011 Feb 8;3(2):8. doi: 10.1186/gm222.

Prospects for personalizing antiviral therapy for hepatitis C virus with pharmacogenetics.

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Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Saint Louis University School of Medicine, Saint Louis, MO 63104, USA.


Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a major cause of liver disease worldwide. HCV infection is currently treated with IFNα plus ribavirin for 24 to 48 weeks. This demanding therapy fails in up to 50% of patients, so the use of pharmacogenetic biomarkers to predict the outcome of treatment would reduce futile treatment of non-responders and help identify patients in whom therapy would be justified. Both IFNα and ribavirin primarily act by modulating the immune system of the patient, and HCV uses multiple mechanisms to counteract the antiviral effects stimulated by therapy. Therefore, response to therapy is influenced by variations in human genes governing the immune system and by differences in HCV genes that blunt antiviral immune responses. This article summarizes recent advances in understanding how host and viral genetic variation affect outcome of therapy. The most notable human associations are polymorphisms within the IL28B gene, but variations in human leukocyte antigen and cytokine genes have also been associated with treatment outcome. The most prominent viral genetic association with outcome of therapy is that HCV genotype 1 is much less sensitive to treatment than genotypes 2 and 3, but genetic differences below the genotype level also influence outcome of therapy, presumably by modulating the ability of viral genes to blunt antiviral immune responses. Pharmacogenetic prediction of the outcome of IFN-based therapy for HCV will require integrating the efficacies of the immunosuppressive mechanisms of a viral isolate, and then interpreting the viral resistance potential in context of the genetic profile of the patient at loci associated with outcome of therapy. Direct-acting inhibitors of HCV that will be used in combination with IFNα are nearing approval, so genetic prediction for anti-HCV therapy will soon need to incorporate viral genetic markers of viral resistance to the new drugs.

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